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Small lifestyle changes have big effect on stroke risk

Thursday June 6, 2013
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Making small lifestyle changes could have a big impact on reducing stroke risk, according to a study.

Researchers assessed stroke risk using the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 health factors: be active, control cholesterol, eat a healthy diet, manage blood pressure, maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and don’t smoke.

"We used the assessment tool to look at stroke risk and found that small differences in health status were associated with large reductions in stroke risk," Mary Cushman, MD, MSc, the study’s senior author and a professor of medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington, said in a news release.

For the study, published June 6 on the website of the journal Stroke, researchers coded each of the LS7 components as poor (0 points), intermediate (1 point) or ideal (2 points). An overall LS7 score was categorized as inadequate (0–4), average (5–9) or optimum (10–14) cardiovascular health.

The researchers found that every one-point increase toward a better score was associated with an 8% lower stroke risk. Compared to those with inadequate scores, people with optimum scores had a 48% lower stroke risk and those with average scores had a 27% lower risk.

While black participants had worse Life’s Simple 7 scores than whites, the association of the Life’s Simple 7 score with stroke risk was similar in black and white participants. "This highlights the critical importance of improving these health factors since blacks have nearly twice the stroke mortality rates as whites," Cushman said.

Cushman and colleagues reviewed information on 22,914 black and white Americans ages 45 and older participating in a nationwide population-based study called the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke.

Researchers collected data in 2003-07 by telephone, self-administered questionnaires and at-home exams. Participants were followed for five years for stroke. Many participants were from the Southeast, where death rates from stroke are the highest.

During the study, 432 strokes occurred. All seven health factors in Life’s Simple 7 played an important role in predicting the risk for stroke, but having ideal blood pressure was the most important indicator of stroke risk, the researchers said. "Compared to those with poor blood pressure status, those who were ideal had a 60% lower risk of future stroke," Cushman said.

The researchers also found that those who did not smoke or quit smoking more than one year prior to the beginning of the study had a 40% lower stroke risk.

Read the study abstract: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/06/06/STROKEAHA.111.000352.abstract.


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